The mansion known as Labassa in Caulfield was formerly a modest country house built for Melbourne judge Richard Billing in 1862 and originally named Sylliot Hill. Alexander William Robertson of Cobb and Co Coaches fame, renamed it ‘Ontario’ when he purchased it in the 1880s. Robertson had big plans, commissioning the German born Architect John A B Koch to remodel the house into a 35 room mansion. The home, situated on a 6 hectare site featured gilt embossed wallpapers, ornate and finely detailed stained glass feature windows and a unique ‘trompe l’oeil’ ceiling (a painted three dimensional mural) when remodelled. Robertson also added massive caste iron gates, redolent of an English palace.
The next owner was John Boyd Watson II, the heir to a Bendigo Mining fortune, who purchased the mansion when Robertson died. Watson was a man of leisure who did not need to work. When he died in 1920 his wife sold the property. Unfortunately, the beautiful home steadily deteriorated over time and by the 1970s it had become a virtual commune with hippy tenants paying homage to Bohemia.
The National Trust purchased the property in 1980 and faithfully restored it to its former glory. Its magnificent verandahs, corinthian arches, ornate plasters, grand staircases, trompe l’oeil ceiling and ornate decorative mouldings on the exterior and interior once again reflecting Architect John Koch’s vision, in its ‘French Second Empire’ style.
Labassa is of genuine architectural significance as the most prominent example of a small number of houses built in Australia in what is known as the French Renaissance style. It is the most important surviving work of German Architect John A B Koch.
Homes of historical architectural significance are prime examples of the beauty of architectural decorative mouldings and much of their magnificence is due to these decorative features. The Finishing Touch are suppliers of modern era decorative mouldings, which are lightweight, high quality and easy to install.